LEL 1 Syntax 6: Syntactic Typology and Universals Peter Ackema email@example.com
Outline • Cross-linguistic variation in word order • Discourse-configurational languages • Non-configurational languages • Syntactic universals
Recap: Word order in English The subject is the phrase immediately preceding the verb and its complements. The object (if there is one) is the first phrase immediately following the verb. If there is an indirect object, this immediately precedes the direct object if it (the indirect object) is an NP, and it follows the direct object if it is a PP. These generalisations hold for discourse-neutral sentences: Maria has read the newspaper already. (neutral) The newspaper, Maria has read already.
SVO, SOV, VSO English is a Subject – Verb – Object (SVO) language. There are also SOV languages. For example, Japanese: Hiromi-ga Naoko-ni tegami-o kaita. Hiromi-nominative Naoko-dative letter-accusative wrote Hiromi wrote a letter to Naoko. Japanese is head-final in general: [NP Taro-ga ano ie-o kat-ta toiu uwasa-o] kii-ta. Taro-nom that house-acc bought that rumour-acc heard I heard the rumour that Taro bought that house.
SVO, SOV, VSO (cont’d) VSO languages exist as well: Sgrìobhadh iad an leabhar. (Scottish Gaelic) write-conditional they the book They would write the book. daxal-at n-nisaaʔ-u makaatib-a-hunna entered-fem the-women-nom office-plur.acc-their The women entered their offices. (Standard Arabic) VOS, OSV and OVS languages appear to be rare at best.
Case and word order freedom German has some case morphology left. Dutch does not. German allows more word orders in the double object construction than Dutch. Der Mann gab der Frau den Hut. the(nom) man gave the(dat) woman the(acc) hat Der Mann gab den Hut der Frau. German De man gaf de vrouw de hoed. Dutch *De man gaf de hoed de vrouw.
Discourse-configurationality In English, you do not need to use a particular word order to indicate what the focus (new information) of a sentence is. You can stress the focused constituent, regardless of its position in the sentence. Who saw an elephant in the zoo yesterday? MARY saw an elephant in the zoo yesterday. What did Mary see in the zoo yesterday? Mary saw AN ELEPHANT in the zoo yesterday. Where did Mary see an elephant yesterday? Mary saw an elephant IN THE ZOO yesterday. When did Mary see an elephant in the zoo? Mary saw an elephant in the zoo YESTERDAY.
Discourse-configurationalty (cont’d) In some languages, the focused constituent must go into a fixed position of the sentence, regardless of its grammatical function. The same holds for topics, constituents that explicitly encode old information. For example, in Hungarian the word order is topics (if there are any) – focus (if there is any) – rest János zsuzsi-nak adott egy könyv-et. John Susi-dative gave a book-accusative As for John, it was SUSI to whom he gave a book. János egy könyv-et adott Zsuzsi-nak. John a book-accusative gave Susi-dative As for John, it was A BOOK that he gave to Susi.
Non-configurationality Both languages like English and discourse-configurational languages show evidence that their sentences are hierarchically structured. For instance, the subject is higher in the sentence structure than the object. Mary congratulated herself on her achievement. *Herself congratulated Mary on her achievement. In non-configurational languages any evidence for a hierarchical syntactic structure is lacking.
Non-configurationality (cont’d) What English expresses by syntactic means is typically expressed by morphological means in non-configurational languages. That is why they are sometimes also referred to as polysynthetic languages: they ‘glue’ all their constituents together into one complex word. Men-neki-ure-qepl-uwicwen-mek. Chukchi 1pl-imperative-night-long-ball-play-1pl Let us play ball for a long time at night. Pe-ke-ilot-aan-akin-it-o-to-ri. Turkana not-they.cause.me-wash-habitual-dative-aspect-v-plural-instrumental They do not force me to do the washing for somebody all the time.
Non-configurationality (cont’d) Non-configurational languages do not need any syntactic subjects or objects in a sentence. Instead, there must always be rich agreement morphology on the verb that indicates who the ‘doer’, the ‘undergoer’, and so on, are. At’ééd ashkii yiyii-tsa. Navajo girl boy 3sgobject-3sgsubject-saw The girl saw the boy. Yiyii-tsa. 3sgobject-3sgsubject-saw She/he saw her/him.
Syntactic universals If in a language the verb is final in the VP (so if it is an SOV language) there is a tendency that the heads of other phrases are final in their phrases as well. Therefore, we can state a generalisation like the following: If in a language verbs follow their complements, then prepositions follow their complements as well (that is, they will show up as postpositions). If in a language verbs precedes their complements, then prepositions precede their complements as well. This is an example of a syntactic universal, in particular of an implicational universal.
Implicational and non-implicational universals An implicational universal has the general form ‘If a language has X, then it will also have Y’. Another example of an implicational universal: If a language has SOV as its basic word order, then adverbs may intervene between verb and object in this basic word order. If a language has SVO as its basic word order, adverbs are not allowed to intervene between verb and object in this basic word order. An example of a non-implicational universal is the following: All languages have verbs and nouns.
Statistical and absolute universals Going back to... If in a language verbs follow their complements, then prepositions follow their complements as well (that is, they will show up as postpositions). If in a language verbs precedes their complements, then prepositions precede their complements as well … it can be observed that not all languages adhere to this. It is even possible that a single language shows both prepositional and postpositional use of the same P: Ze zwommen [in het kanaal]. Dutch they swam in the canal They were swimming in the canal. Ze zwommen [het kanaal in]. they swam the canal in They swam into the canal.
Statistical and absolute universals (cont’d) Therefore, this If in a language verbs follow their complements, then prepositions follow their complements as well (that is, they will show up as postpositions). If in a language verbs precedes their complements, then prepositions precede their complements as well is a statistical universal. In contrast, an absolute universal is claimed to be without exceptions. Perhaps ‘all languages have verbs and nouns’ is absolute.
A universal about the Noun Phrase In an earlier lecture, we have seen that in English Noun Phrases the order is Determiner – Adjective – Noun and cannot be *Adjective – Determiner – Noun The latter order is not found in other languages, either. Apparently: If a determiner and an adjective precede the noun in a Noun Phrase, they must appear in the order Det - Adj